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Federal appeals court weighs four states’ same-sex marriage cases

One judge questions whether the courts are the proper venue to settle the debate over marriage equality
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
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Gay marriage supporters rally outside a federal courthouse in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Aug. 6, where judges were hearing the appeals of six same-sex marriage cases from four states.Al Behrman, AP

Gay marriage supporters rally outside the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Aug. 6, where judges were hearing the appeals of six same-sex marriage cases from four states.

Audio of each of the four states’ appeals is here: Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee


CINCINNATI — Judges Martha Craig Daughtrey and Deborah L. Cook made it clear fairly quickly they stood on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Their colleague, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, however, gave fewer hints as to where he may come down when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decides the fate of gay marriage bans in four states.

The cases heard Wednesday pit states’ rights and conservative values against what plaintiffs’ attorneys say is a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

If the 6th Circuit decides against gay marriage, it would create a divide among federal appeals courts and put pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue during its 2015 session. The appeals panel did not indicate when it would rule.

Daughtrey’s comments and questions Wednesday displayed bewilderment at arguments for upholding the laws and Cook several times stepped in to make the point for the states’ more clearly than their attorneys. Sutton showed skepticism as gay couples from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee pushed to require their states to recognize their marriages elsewhere or allow them to be married in their home states. He also repeatedly pressed attorneys for the states on the logic behind their arguments.

Attorneys for the same-sex couples focused heavily on two main points: the discriminatory nature of the laws and the slow pace and expense of changing state constitutions as well as the federal Constitution.

Laura Landenwich, a Louisville, Kentucky, attorney representing same-sex couples from that state, said sometimes democracy doesn’t keep up with the will of the public.

“There is a limit to the democratic process,” Landenwich said.

Sutton’s questions to the plaintiffs focused heavily on why they were using the court system rather than allowing democracy to work its will in the states.

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“I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” Sutton said. “Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it. … I’m not 100 percent sure it’s the better route for the gay rights community.”

Attorneys for the four states zeroed in on the fact that voters enacted the laws being questioned and the idea that heterosexual couples can procreate and bring children into stable environments.

Michigan’s solicitor general, Aaron Lindstrom, argued that any change in the state’s ban on same-sex marriage should come through the political process and that the laws aren’t discriminatory.

“The most basic right we have as a people is to decide public policy questions on our own,” he said.

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